Explainer: What is the Chilcot Report and what can we expect from it?


With this week witnessing the publication of the Chilcot Report, CommonSpace looks at the main points of discussion for the inquiry

THE long-awaited Chilcot Report into the Iraq war will finally be released tomorrow, and you can probably expect a mini media meltdown over the mammoth findings.

It could be a bit difficult to follow it all, so we’ll be doing our best to try and break it all down into the main points.

To kick us off ahead of publication, we’ve put together a quick explainer to jog your memory on some of they key issues likely to arise.

What was the Iraq war?

When people talk about the Iraq war they generally mean the US-UK-led invasion in 2003. However, that was actually the second Gulf War; the first was in 1991, but it didn’t oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

The 2003 invasion lasted from March–April 2003. Along with smaller contingents from other countries, the US and UK invaded and defeated Iraqi military and paramilitary forces, this time deposing Hussein, who was later hanged after a trial in Iraq. 

This was followed by a longer second phase in which a US-led occupation of Iraq was opposed by various ethnic and religious insurgencies. After violence began to decline in 2007, the US gradually reduced its military presence in Iraq completing its withdrawal in December 2011.

What do we know about the Chilcot Report and when will it be published?

The report was commissioned by former prime minister Gordon Brown in 2009, led by senior civil servant Sir John Chilcot and is set to be published on Wednesday 6 July. It is one of the largest documents produced by an official inquiry, being 2.6 million words long and, uncommon for a defence review or inquiry, no redactions will appear in the entire text. 

How long has it taken to complete?

The hearings have lasted longer than the Iraq war itself. In fact, the inquiry was announced in June 2009, with Sir John Chilcot appointed chair and the committee he leads hearing evidence from November of that year. The first public hearing was held on Tuesday 24 November 2009 and the last public hearing was held on Wednesday 2 February 2011.

Why has it taken so long?

Originally it was meant to last a year, but it took so long to hear all the evidence that publication of the findings has been significantly delayed, and it has caused a lot of controversy.

There’s also a thing called ‘Maxwellisation’, a legal procedure which means people are permitted to respond to criticisms in an official report before its publication. 

Additionally, according to The Times in August of last year, claims that the first draft was “riddled with errors” also caused delays.

The wait for Chilcot has even inspired a Twitter parody account.

Why is it so controversial?

One of the main points of controversy is whether or not Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Both UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George Bush insisted that intelligence services had evidence that Hussein had the ability to launch chemical and biological WMDs within 45 minutes.

But one chief UN inspector, Hans Blix, wasn’t so sure and aired doubts about the existence of these weapons.

It was a key point in the case for war, and critics and anti-war campaigners have insisted ever since that it amounted to a lie. No WMDs were ever found in the aftermath of the war.

Campaigners will be closely watching the Chilcot Report for its findings on the original case put forward for war.

What can we expect to find out?

The committee has been at pains to make it clear that the inquiry “is not a court of law”, and so is not able to discuss any criminal culpability. The Iraq Inquiry website does, however, add: “If the Committee finds that mistakes were made, that there were issues which could have been dealt with better, it will say so.”

What we know is that the inquiry is going to focus on the run up to the Iraq war. The main areas of focus will be on the civil service, foreign office, security services, Ministry of Defence and Downing Street.

According to the Daily Mail, “Downing Street insiders said … that they expect to the report to be a ‘devastating’ indictment of the Blair government and large swathes of the Whitehall establishment”.

Additionally Sir John has referred to its remit as "establishing as accurately and reliably as possible what happened, as well as the manner of decisions taken".

What consequences will result from the inquiry?

In the run up to publication there have been calls by SNP and Labour MPs for former Prime Minister Tony Blair to face impeachment or a trial at the International Criminal Court.

Such an impeachment law – last used in 1806 to impeach Tory minister Lord Melville for misappropriating official funds – is seen in Westminster as an alternative form of punishment and could ensure Blair never holds office again. 

The Iraq inquiry’s total expenditure since 2009 has been £10,375,000.

The human cost of the war

The UK lost 179 servicemen and women during the campaign that followed the invasion of Iraq. Many of those who died were killed by roadside bombs or in clashes with insurgents on patrols. 

The PLOS Medicine 'Iraq Mortality Study', by Amy Hagopian in 2011, estimated that direct and indirect deaths of Iraqis can be said to be in the region of 500,000. 

Image courtesy of The U.S. Army

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